Srinagar: Stating that the summer season was excellent on the tourism front, Director Tourism Faz Lul Haseeb Friday said that the department is mulling to explore more border villages for tourists this winter to give a major boost to the tourism sector.
In an exclusive interview with the news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), the Director Tourism said that the footfall of tourists this year was excellent and it was much bigger than the expectations.
“Many people had chosen to visit Kashmir as their preferred tourist destination. It makes a lot of sense because tourists have chosen Kashmir as their favourite destination. I think in one or other, the huge flow of tourists was a surprise for all of us. We would want to continue and emerge this for the winter season and coming years too,” he said. Replying to a query about tourist arrivals in 2022, he said so far more than 2.2 million tourists have visited Kashmir including those who have come here for Amarnath Yatra. Without Yatri’s it is nearly 20 lakh tourists who have visited here.
He said that the department doesn’t have data of the past 75 years about tourists’ arrivals in Kashmir, but all “I can say is that it was bumper tourism for Kashmir. I have spoken to a lot of hoteliers, travel agents and other people associated with tourism, everybody’s response was that it was a good season.”
He said that during the COVID-19, there was a drastic decline in tourists here because of the nationwide lockdown, how is the Tourism department dealing with it to compensate for the losses.
“We are dealing with it in a number of ways. This year, we have organised a number of tourism events and festivals here. We have more events in the pipeline. We will be organizing road shows and TTFs also. We are also trying to engage tourists in a number of ways like we have tried and installed zip lines in Chinar Bagh’s, one in Sonamarg and Pahalgam,” he said.
About new experiences they are going to offer to tourists, a few months ago they initiated paragliding, then they also tried a hot air balloon. “We are extracting more areas through which we can engage more and more tourists. We try to relook at many more things so that more and more tourists will visit here,” he said. On winter plans of the tourism department, the Director Tourism said that there are many winter plans in the pipeline. “We are probably planning an ice city somewhere in the Gulmarg then we will be trying to open up other destinations which are our major priorities this year,” he said.
He said that apart from the winter carnival this year, they will try to open major destinations like Sonamarg, Doodhpathri and Yusmarg to ensure they remain functional and tourists have maximum options to visit the traditional places of Kashmir. “We will be trying to diversify the experience for tourists,” he said.
Asked how many hoteliers the Tourism department have registered with, he said that they have more than 1500 hoteliers registered with them. “The point is that all the hoteliers in whatever capacity are ready to be with us, especially in Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg,” he said.
To a query that the tourism department has already mentioned a number of new tourist destinations in Kashmir. Do we have any new destinations in the pipeline? “See, if we are declaring or exploring more areas, we have to look into different aspects as well like road connectivity, snow gets cleared and other major things. But, we will try to explore more areas but for now we are focusing on the already announced destinations. We are trying to collaborate with the respective Deputy Commissioners in this regard,” he said.
About Heli Tourism, he said that they are trying to look at Heli-Tourism and Heli-Skiing. “We will try to explore more possibilities and see at what destinations and places these things can be introduced. Once we will come up with the concrete thing, we will take actions accordingly,” he said.
Asked the status of LoC tourism which the department has initiated this year, the Director Tourism said that for tourism along the Line of Control (LoC) areas, “we have organised a border festival in Titwal which was done in collaboration with the Indian Army. We also organised a festival in Lolab and in Gurez that had a traditional touch. We will see if there is something we can do in the Uri sector because these are our major borders.”
To a question that whether LoC tourism was accessible to all the local and foreign tourists, he said that the local tourists can explore all the LoC tourism area but for the foreign tourists, they have sought a sort of permission.
He said that the Tourism department does not have any specific employment generation scheme but we are trying to promote entrepreneurship through home-stay, “we are trying that people get their home-stays and paying guests registered and once their guesthouses are registered they can become some sort of entrepreneurs in their own way where they can start something on their own being at home only.” He said that since “we are trying to open other destinations as well so that many more people come on board and try to help in introducing the activities related to snow that includes snowboarding, snowshoeing etc. These are the things which we are trying.”
Asked that recently, the tourism department has installed tented colonies and has initiated home-stay facilities, he said that “We have tried to outsource a couple of things. We have installed tent colonies this year in Sonamarg which runs successfully. We are trying to install more tented colonies and we are trying to see whether it will be successful in Bangus valley and other areas as these areas come under forest department so we need some sort of clearance from them to implement it. In winters it will be difficult for the tourists to stay in tents and we will try and see if it works in upcoming summer but home-stays are our main priority.”
On home-stays, he said that till now 650 home-stays are registered and we are working to set up more home-stays. “There is a considerable growth in numbers of the tourism department and as a department we have diversified into activities which we had ventured into earlier,” he said—(KNO)